Nestled in between rugged cliffs to the north and beaches to the south on the island of Oahu, somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, is Honolulu, Hawaii’s largest city.
The population of the metro area is just shy of 1 million residents, and though the entire city is not very large, even without leaving the city area, there are so many opportunities of places to go and things to see.
On the very east side of Honolulu, near an area of town called Hawaii Kai, is Hanauma Bay, one of the most famous places on the entire island for snorkeling.
The bay, sunken into a crater with a gorgeous stretch of golden sand, is a nature reserve and marine sanctuary.
When you arrive at Hanauma Bay, you’re normally required to watch a short video about the marine life and the preservation of it, and you can then take the short 5 minute hike to the bottom of the crater to get to the beach and get in the cool clear water.
If you’re interested in snorkeling while you’re in Honolulu, Hanauma Bay is the place to visit.
Open hours: Wednesday through Monday from 6 am – 6 pm , closed every Tuesday
Entrance fee: $1 parking, $7.50 per person, and if you don’t have your own mask and snorkel, you can rent it from them at the steep price of $12.50
Local tip: If you have your own car and are willing to wake up early, you can arrive at Hanauma Bay from after 6 am and before 7 am, for free parking and free entrance. It’s legal, and you save a lot of money on the entrance fee!
Like all Chinatowns in the world, Honolulu’s Chinatown is an always bustling, energetic market section of the city.
It’s not quite as chaotic as Chinatown in Bangkok or Manila, but even though it’s small, it still has that same thrilling rushed market feel to it.
The smell of fruits and vegetables and the aroma of fresh fish and meat fill the air in Honolulu’s Chinatown, just as they do in other Chinatowns around the world. You’ll find great prices on produce, and you’ll find the fruits and vegetables you need to make whatever type of Asian food you want.
Along with fresh market foods to purchase, there are also an abundance of delicious restaurants throughout Honolulu’s Chinatown. Within Maunakea Marketplace you’ll find Filipino and Thai food, and on the outskirts of Chinatown you should not miss Char Hung Sut – a takeout restaurant that sells legendary Hawaiian style Cantonese dumplings and baozi (manapua).
Exploring and eating through Chinatown is one of the top attractions in Honolulu.
If you love to get outdoors, do some exercise, and enjoy stunning panoramic views, hiking is one of the best things to do in Honolulu.
There are quite a few good hikes right in the Honolulu area, some of them a bit outside of the city limits, but others are right in the city.
Diamond Head is the iconic former volcano that stands proud at the far eastern side of Waikiki, and is often an emblem of visiting Honolulu. The volcano provides a great backdrop to all your beach photos from Waikiki, but the view is even better when you’re on the very top of it.
The Diamond Head crater was formerly used as military base on Oahu, but is now open to the public for recreational use. The hike is just under a mile in length, and takes about 20 – 30 minutes to reach the summit.
At first the trail is easy, then you come to a series of switchbacks where you start gaining elevation, and finally towards the end, you pass through a military tunnel, go up a few flights of stairs, and emerge through a bunker.
The views of Honolulu are great!
Open hours: Daily from 6 am – 6 pm
Entrance fee: $5 per carload (this includes parking), or if you park outside and walk in (or take the bus / Waikiki trolley) the entrance fee is $1 per person.
Local tip: After climbing Diamond Head, make sure you stop at Diamond Head Market, just down the road from the hike, for a snack or plate lunch. They are especially well known for their blueberry scones, with are big and delicious.
Located on the east side of Waikiki is the Honolulu Zoo. The zoo is spread out over 42 acres and is home to 905 different animals, most of the them natives of tropical climates. Don’t miss the komodo dragon or the orangutan!
Along with the diversity of different animals at the Honolulu Zoo, the grounds are also neatly designed with many different lush tropical gardens, showcasing a variety of native Hawaiian plants and flowers.
The Waikiki Aquarium is just down the road from the Honolulu Zoo, and while it’s quite small, it’s a good place to learn about the local marine life in the oceans of Hawaii, and a chance to see the playful Hawaiian monk seals.
Especially if you have kids, visiting both the zoo and the aquarium in Honolulu makes for a fun day activity and attraction in the city.
Open hours: Zoo from 9:00 am – 4:30 pm daily, Aquarium from 9:00 am – 4:30 pm
Entrance fee: Zoo – $14, Aquarium – $12
While Diamond Head and Koko Head, two amazing hikes in Honolulu, are dry hikes, Manoa Falls is a lush green jungle hike.
It’s actually not so much of a hike, but more of a 20 – 30 minute walk through the dense tropical forest with a pretty nice waterfall at the end of the trail.
Hiking Manoa Falls is a good chance to stretch your legs and see some of the beautiful plants and trees of Hawaii. Though there’s a sign and rope around the pool at the bottom of the waterfall with a warning to be cautious of falling rocks, many people take a quick refreshing swim in the beautiful water.
Entrance fee: They charge $5 for parking, but if you park down the street and are willing to walk a bit to get in, you can avoid the fee all together.
Occupying a long stretch of the coast on the south shore of Honolulu, is the famous area of town known as Waikiki. It’s the main touristy area of town where there’s a sea of high rise hotels and resorts that line the beach, nearly all the way from the Honolulu Zoo to Ala Wai harbor.
Even if you’re not staying in Waikiki, you can still visit the area, take walks along the beach, go shopping or dine at one of the many restaurants. For breakfast be sure to stop by the well known Eggs ‘n Things restaurant.
Also, right next to Waikiki is Honolulu’s largest shopping mall known as Ala Moana Center, a gigantic shopping destination. You’ll find mostly designer and higher end stores, but there are also plenty of other stores to browse around and many restaurants to eat at. Ala Moana is the epicenter of shopping in Honolulu.
Pearl Harbor, and more specifically the USS Arizona, is not so much an attraction in Honolulu, but rather a memorial.
It was on the morning of December 7th, 1941, when Japanese aircraft made a surprise bomb attack on the US ships anchored in Honolulu’s Pearl Harbor. During the deadly attack, many lives were lost, and many ships were destroyed. It was after this attack, when the US declared war on Japan and entered into World War II.
When you arrive at Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial, you get a ticket with a time on it. When it’s your turn, you meet your group and first watch a 30 minute film which explains the history of what happened at Pearl Harbor.
After the film, you board a ferry for a short 5 minute ferry ride to the USS Arizona Memorial, which is a white platform that floats above the sunken ship. You spend about 15 minutes on the platform, respecting the location and the events that happened right there years ago.
Also, on the Pearl Harbor compound you can visit the USS Bowfin, for a chance to tour a WWII submarine.
Open hours: Open daily from 7:00 am – 4:30 pm (programs to USS Arizona memorial are from 8 am – 3 pm)
Entrance fee: Free, but if you enter the USS Bowfin it’s $12 per person
Local tip: You can reserve a ticket online, and then just show up an hour before your time to get your ticket and confirm your spot.